Mr. Morley: I have listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He is making a good case in a typically thoughtful way. He is right in some aspects of what he is saying, but he is not right to say that timetables should be agreed during a process such as that of the G8. A process could well be agreedthat is not unreasonablebut it would be arrogant for the eight richest countries to start to agree timetables on a global issue without involving the rest of the world community. The place for the engagement of the world community is within the UN process. That is where that must take place and the G8 cannot short-circuit that. I would also say that the Prime Minister is right to be bold
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. That is supposed to be an intervention. Perhaps those points might be made in the winding-up speeches or some other time. I call Oliver Heald [Hon. Members: "Letwin."] I think that that is the second time that I have done that, so I do apologise.
I am perfectly willing to accept what the Minister says. If he is telling us that it is conceivable to negotiate a process and to have a communiqué that establishes a process to which the US and, because they are offline participants, China, India and Brazil are signatories, but that it is not possible to have a timetable without offending much of the rest of the word, that is fine. Let us have a process, and not a timetable. What is important is that we make the shift between not achieving a substantive goal that cannot be achieved at the G8 to achieving a process goal that, in principle, can be achieved at the G8. That is extraordinarily important.
There is a matter of perception that will become a matter of reality. If the G8 is seen to produce a process and that process is then followed, it will be seen that the US has moved into the mainstream. If the G8 is seen not to produce anything, because it has not produced any serious substance other than a few beans for investment, it will be seen as a reverse. As the Liberal spokesman pointed out, that, if anything, will give comfort to the opponents of taking the issue seriously within the US Administration and discomfort to people such as the governor of California, who has done so much good work.
Mr. Hurd: I would like to bring my right hon. Friend back to the important point that he made about accountability. At the time, he seemed to restrict his comments to the UK's performance but, in the context of what he has just said about the international process, does he agree that part of the failing of Kyoto was the lack of international accountability for hitting the targets? Would he support a greater role for an organisation such as the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development in monitoring and publishing national CO 2 reduction targets?
Mr. Letwin: There will inevitably have to be a role not just for more conspicuous national mechanics to constrain democratic Governments into behaving in the long-term interest of their nations but more conspicuous international mechanics for constraining those Governments who do not have sufficient domestic mechanics to achieve that goal. Whether it is the commission that my hon. Friend refers to or another is a matter that must be negotiated and considered, but I am clear that there needs to be a multilateral framework and a unilateral framework within each country. That means that, together, progress is regularly and sustainably made.
In effect, we are talking about a curve and it is not the curve itself but the area under it that matters. People sometimes talk as though CO 2 emissions were a matter of how much is being emitted 50 years from now, but it is not. It is a matter of how much is emitted between now and 50 years from now, and it is important that the area under the curve is right over that period. That will certainly not be achieved unless there is international monitoring of some kind and a seriously enforceable series of mechanisms.
I wish to make a final point. There is no doubt that there are sceptics about climate change. The Liberal spokesman referred to the fact that the governor of California recently said that the debate is over. Many people regard it as a test of sanity, mainstream political allegiance or whatever that people sign up to the science.
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The Minister referred to the fact that the Prime Minister and Secretary of State have been keen to promote more agreement on the science, and I have no objection to that. But I think there is a severe danger that most of usI include myselfwho have no scientific expertise will try to persuade ourselves that what really matters is whether we buy into the science. It does not matter two hoots whether I buy into the science. I know nothing about the matter, so my adherence to it is of no more interest than whether my 12-year-old son believes that two and two equal four. They do equal four and if he does not know that fact his education is in trouble, but it tells us nothing about the truth or otherwise of the matter, and my adherence or otherwise to the science is equally irrelevant to the truth of that science.
Moreover, there are plenty of examples in history of establishment views about science proving in the long run to be wholly fallacious. There are cases in which 99 per cent. of all the then scientists took a view and turned out to be wrong. I do not base my absolute belief that we must take the problem seriously, to the extent of actually doing something about it, on an adherence to a view of the science, but on a kind of Pascalian wager. It seems clear to me that if the great bulk of the scientific community who believe that a terrible problem is about to inflict us turn out to be wrong and notwithstanding the costs that I was debating with the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman)we have invested in a number of harmless and, in many cases, for other reasons, positively useful devices, we shall have wasted a little of our national income. To take her point, even then not all of it would be a waste in economic terms. We could probably organise things so that, in the meanwhile, the place is a little nicer to live in as a result. I do not think that anybody in the world would suffer dramatically from that. If, on the contrary, we do not take the problem seriouslyeven if we go around saying that we believe in itand we do not actually do anything about it, and what the great bulk of scientists is telling us is about to occur begins to occur, the costs in social and economic disruption will be immense. That is a risk not worth taking.
We no longer need to debate the science, not because scientific debate among scientists is ever over and not because we who are not scientists know the truth, but because we would have to be lunatic not to try to do that which has a relatively slight cost if done early and face the possible consequence of a disaster that would have an enormous cost later. I hope that in my party, and more generally across the nation, we quit that debate and get on with the business, in which we have been engagingusually constructivelythis evening, of trying to work out how we make things happen across the globe and in this country. In that endeavour, I hope we can join.
Mr. Deputy Speaker:
Order. The time for debate is short and at least five Members are seeking to catch my eye, so if contributions can be reasonably short I hope that we can get everybody in.
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Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I shall take note of your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although many issues have been raised in the debate and I want to comment on some of them.
The right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), at the beginning of his thoughtful speech, called on Members not to engage in crypto-partisan comments. I am not quite sure what those are, but I have observed that when people ask other Members not to engage in partisan debate it tends to mean that their own arguments are rather weak and that they do not want too much focus on them.
I shall take the right hon. Gentleman's advice in the spirit in which it was given, although I intend to begin with a few comments that may be seen as partisan, because it is important to examine some of the Liberal Democrat policies and their record on this matter; it is after all a Liberal Democrat day. In tackling climate change, it is important that the rhetoric of politicians is matched by their actions and I have to say that, on too many occasions, Liberal Democrat rhetoric is not matched by action. That needs to be emphasised. The headline policies are good, but the specifics on how they are to be implemented are not so good. Indeed, there are occasions when it would appear that Liberal Democrats would happily run a mile if any of their environmental policies might run the slightest risk of scaring voters.
Earlier, there was a short exchange of views about national road user charging and the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) confirmed that his party supports such a scheme. Earlier today, I noticed that my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett), bravely confirmed that in the Scottish Liberal Democrats manifesto for the recent election it was Liberal Democrat policy to
I commend him on his bravery in saying that, especially because he represents Edinburgh, which is an urban area with plenty of congestion, so the policy would probably cost those of his constituents who drive into the centre of Edinburgh perhaps £100 a week in road user charges.
I mention road user charging because the Liberal Democrats support a national road user charging scheme, but when we had a debate and referendum in Edinburgh earlier this year on the introduction of a congestion charging scheme in the city, which was recommended by an independent report and supported by most independent transport exports, the campaign against the scheme was led by the Liberal Democrats in Edinburgh. Of course, they were not against congestion charging per sethey were in favour of it in principlebut they said that that particular scheme was not quite right and had not come forward at the right time. The Liberal Democrats had the perfect opportunity to promote their green credentials, but when it came to actual nitty-gritty politics, their policy had the opposite effect on the environment to the headline policies that they proclaim in debates such as this.